Looking Back at 2013

For the past two days I’ve been writing about my personal reading goals and the blogging goals I’ll be working on for 2014. Now, three days into the new year it’s time to take one last look back at 2013 and how things went. I sort of fell off the band wagon a bit in the second half of the year, really losing a lot of steam in regards to how often I was publishing new posts, especially book reviews. But, 2014 should be better.

Let’s start by taking a quick look at the last few books I finished before the new year. The weeks of the year saw me driving my way through six pieces of literature, just narrowly surpassing my total pages read mark from last year. They were:

The Daedalus Incident was an absolutely spectacular debut for Michael J. Martinez, so much so that I’ve added him to my “must read” list already. He took some amazing chances with his storytelling and put together a tale that is unlike anything I’ve seen. Abaddon’s Gate was a wonderful installment to the continuing story that is The Expanse and I can’t wait for the next book in a few months.

Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft gave me a lot of motivation and hope for my own fledgling writing dreams and I’m hoping I can incorporate some of the insights and lessons I took from it into my routines this year at some point. The other three items on the list were all short stories written by the authors to add a bit of depth to the universes they exist in between the most recently released books and the upcoming ones. I enjoyed all three of them immensely. It was a good month of reading for me in the realm of quality writing.

As far as reading statistics go, here are a couple that might be interesting:

  • Total Books Read: 84
  • Total Pages Read: 31,512
  • Average Book Length: 375 pages

I had sort of hoped I could get all the way to 100 books read, but it just wasn’t in the cards for me. I had to navigate my way through some unexpected circumstances during the middle of the year that took my focus away from blogging and put it elsewhere.

In the world of blogging statistics, 20four12 saw 7,600 unique visitors over the course of the year for an average of about 20-21 visitors per day. That’s not too bad, but I would like to see it be significantly higher by the time this new year is finished.

And, last but not least, let’s take a look at two lists. In reading 84 books and novellas over the course of the year it is inevitable that I would find some favorites and least favorites. Part of me thought I should only list my favorites, but then I decided I was interested in seeing if any of the ones on my least favorite list would incite some discussion. Maybe some of them are favorites to other people, or maybe even some of the books I considered my favorite from this year are hated by others. I always find that to be incredibly fascinating. In no particular order:

Ten Favorite Books I Read in 2013:

Honorable Mention

Ten Least Favorite Books I Read in 2013:

I feel compelled to note that of the books listed in the least favorite category, I only find two of them to be absolutely atrocious, but I’m not going to tell you which ones. All of the others I just didn’t like as much as I wanted to, or they just simply were not my style when all was said and done. Take, The Great Gatsby for example. Widely considered to be a premier piece of fiction, I can’t stand it. It’s a matter of taste.

So, there you have it, a snapshot of my reading and blogging experiences from 2013. It was an interesting year for me as both a reader and as a blogger, but ultimately I feel like I did an okay job with both. Here’s to 2014 and making 20four12 really shine!

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Book Review: “Mind Over Monsters: A F.R.E.A.K.S. Squad Investigation” by Jennifer Harlow

Beatrice Alexander is no ordinary schoolteacher—she can move objects with her mind, an embarrassing skill she hasn’t yet mastered or embraced. After nearly killing her brother by accident, she joins the F.R.E.A.K.S. Squad, the Federal Response to Extra-Sensory and Kindred Supernaturals. This top-secret branch of the FBI combats ghosts, ghouls, and other monsters threatening humanity.

With her teammates—among them a handsome former-detective werewolf and an annoying Don Juan vampire who’s dead-set on seducing her—Beatrice investigates her first case. Disgustingly dismembered bodies have turned up, bearing bite marks of the undead. Someone—or something—is raising a horde of hideous, bloodthirsty zombies. Armed with Bette, her trusty machete, Beatrice takes on the master of the flesh-devouring corpses, who’s guarding a horrifying secret…

Mind Over MonstersAlright, here’s the deal. Sometimes people come up with a great idea for a book. They think up a great plot, some interesting character ideas, a few quality twists and turns that will keep the reader turning the pages, and then they’ll put it all down in print.

One of two things usually happens in this scenario. Either the book is a hit and they go on to fame and glory, or the book is a flop and nobody gets it for some reason and they fall back into obscurity. Well, this time, Jennifer Harlow finds herself right between the two with Mind Over Monsters. She has a great idea for a new, fresh take on the “misunderstood monsters are actually the good guys” concept. She even has a few great twists and turns in her plot, but she fell flat on the viewpoint character. Which, in turn, kept the book from being great.

I really like the idea of a squad of individuals who have some extraordinary powers they themselves can’t really explain. Perhaps some of these squad members don’t really like who they are as a result of these powers, maybe they just want to be left alone, but they realize they can do good in the right circumstances. I even like the idea of this particular story being told from a first-person viewpoint of a newly inducted member of the squad.

What I don’t like is that viewpoint character coming across so loudly as a desperate attempt for the author to live some sort of fantasy they’ve thought up in their mind. Every single time that the main character swoons over the muscles of a squad mate  complains about her messed up hair, or does something based on having little to no common sense it ripped me right out of the story and made me want to stop reading. I kept going because Harlow did have some really good stuff mixed in with all of the distracting things the main character was doing.

There is an absolutely great moment between Beatrice and a young girl, a heart-wrenching moment if I’m honest with myself. Harlow demonstrates some exceptional skill at various places throughout this entire book, but doesn’t maintain that skill all the way through which was disappointing because I wanted to love this book very, very much. There is a lot of depth to the world Harlow has created for these characters to live inside of, but she’s keeping them on the surface of it most of the time instead of really letting them marinate.

From what I can see there is already a follow-up to Mind Over Monsters entitled To Catch a Vampire. I’m not going to pick it up right now, but I’m not going to rule it out entirely like I would a lot of other sequels to books that made me feel this way. I think the author is smart enough from what I saw in her writing that she could fix a lot of the problems I had without too much effort, but will she is what I want to know.

I’d be interested in knowing if anyone else has read Mind Over Monsters recently and has some thoughts on it. It was so close to being what I wanted it to be, so close.

Length: 280 pages

Amazon   |   Barnes & Noble   |   Goodreads

April 2013 in Review

I’m officially behind now. Ideally I would have at least 35 books finished with reviews already written by the last day of April. Instead, I have 30 books complete and probably not even half that number in reviews written for them. It’s been a rough start to the year for me and blogging. Moving, work, life, everything seems to get in the way right now. I hope it’s just a minor funk that I can break out of soon when stuff begins to slow down a little bit.

But, despite the fact that I’m behind on both reading and blogging I finished a decent pile of books in April and even discovered a couple of new series that I’m anxious to get back to in the near future. Perhaps that will provide me with the motivation I need to get back on track.

Here’s the comprehensive list of the books I finished in April:

I hit just about every point of the spectrum with these books. There were some I loved, some I had a hard time finishing, and some that I’m simply on the fence about. The ones I loved were Midshipman’s Hope and Gabriel: Zero Point, two science fiction offerings that are the first books in an already established series. I have pretty high hopes for where those authors are going to take me when I get back to the rest of their work.

Breathe and Mind Over Monsters really left me hanging. Both of these books had good concepts, both of them had great ideas, but my honest thought after finishing each of them was, “Dang, if only this had been the fifth book this author wrote instead of their first. Then their writing would have been more polished and up to the task of really doing the concept/idea justice.” A somewhat arrogant thought to be sure, but that’s how I felt. Like they had all the right pieces but either inexperience or something else was just enough to keep them from sliding them together correctly.

I was 50/50 on Scalzi’s The Human Division over the past couple months reading the weekly episodes. Some of them I absolutely loved, some of them I found entirely uninteresting, and the rest I was simply comfortable with. I’ll get into my thoughts on how his experiment with an episodic format worked or didn’t work for me in another post down the road.

And, as far as 11/22/63 goes, I just don’t know. I’ve now read two Stephen King novels and I really can’t tell you if I like him or not. He’s got good ideas, good writing skill, but part of me says something important is missing in how he presents his stories. On the other hand, I wouldn’t be surprised if I’m simply missing the point entirely with his books. I’ll keep giving him a chance until I can firmly plant myself on one side of the fence or the other with him.

For May I have big plans to both get caught up to where I’m supposed to be for the reading challenge as well as to get 100% caught up on my reviews written. Beyond that I’d love to get everything on my Kindle read and have a chance to plan out what I want to read next. I want to start focusing on finishing one series at a time for the rest of the year with a few standalone novels mixed in between series as my interest warrants.